Sunday’s southbound Starlight departed Eugene 15 minutes late. Less than an hour later, near Oakridge on its climb into the mountains at 6:19 p.m., the lead locomotive struck a tree that had fallen across the tracks and became disabled. The train continued to have head end power for heat and light. Closed highways made evacuation impossible.
The plan was to pull the Starlight back to Eugene, but one of the 184 stranded passengers told CNN that according to an announcement from Amtrak personnel, a UP plow train needed 11 hours to clear 9 miles of track on Monday.
The Starlight was stocked for another day of dining car and cafe car meals and all long distance trains always carry an emergency supply of food, usually beef stew. According to Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari, passengers were given complimentary meals throughout the day Monday, but by Tuesday morning passengers told news outlets that food had run out. The rescue locomotive arrived overnight Monday and by early Tuesday morning had coupled on to the rear and is pulling the train back to Eugene
“We sincerely regret the extended delay customers on the southbound Coast Starlight experienced due to extreme weather issues while traveling with Amtrak. With more than a foot of heavy snow and numerous trees blocking the track, we made every decision in the best interest of the safety of our customers during the unfortunate sequence of events. With local power outages and blocked roads, it was decided the safest place for our customers was to remain on the train where we were able to provide food, heat, electricity and toilets,” Amtrak Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Scot Naparstek tells Trains News Wire. “Amtrak crews worked with local resources and the train is now enroute north to Eugene, Oregon. We will be contacting customers to provide refunds and other compensation as appropriate.”
The Coast Starlight will operate Tuesday and Wednesday only between Los Angeles and Sacramento and Amtrak Cascades trains have been cancelled south of Portland to Eugene through Thursday. However, a Tuesday fire on BNSF Railway’s Portland, Ore., Columbia River bridge casts doubt on the return of the entire route.